Bulk tanks and the Hot Head Torch

It is my opinion that using a bulk tank and a Hot Head torch is the single most dangerous activity a glassworker can do. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

The Hot Head torch is designed to operate at full tank pressure, which averages around 120 PSI. One crack or one cut in your fuel line and your studio will be filled with an explosive level of fuel. The explosive limit on propane is somewhere around 3-4%, so in an average sized room, it would not take long for the room to reach that limit. “But I keep my tank inside right next to me” you might say. And keeping your tank right next to you MIGHT save you from blowing up with your house, but it is in violation of the NFPA codes and laws, and if there were ever a fire in your building, most likely your insurance company would not pay for any damage and would probably cancel your insurance policy.

You might also say “But glass distributors sell these hoses all the time”. Yes they do. But once again, that doesn’t mean you should use them. The hoses being sold are for use in RV’s, construction work, and other non-code applications. Using a bulk tank and a Hot Head torch is flat out DANGEROUS. There is no safe way to use a bulk tank and a Hot Head torch.

“Can I plumb the fuel line for a Hot Head torch?” NO. NFPA and building codes around the US limit the maximum pressure for a through-the-wall connection to 20 PSI. The Hot Head torch cannot operate at 20 PSI.

The Hot Head torch is a good beginners torch. You can learn the basics of glassworking with it and build up your experience level. And then move on to a oxygen-fuel gas torch. You will find that using an oxygen-fuel gas torch will be hotter, more focused, and use far less fuel. And they are miles away more quieter.

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27 thoughts on “Bulk tanks and the Hot Head Torch

  1. thanks for scaring the shit outta me – seriously though – I was looking for the pressure required and also insrructions for turning the knurled ring – the torch I bought (to use to keep pieces above stress point) was new but did not have instructions

  2. Sam — is the torch a plumbers torch, like those you can purchase from a hardware store?

    Typically speaking, these torches require full tank pressure, which is around 120 PSI. To light them, open the knurled knob about 1 full turn, and use a spark lighter. Then, once the torch is lit, adjust the flame to the length you want.

  3. So then what do you suggest since the production of MAPP gas has been discontinued? We own a plumbing and heating wholesale distributorship and can no longer get MAPP gas.

    Being the beginner that I am, I’m just not sure that I want to invest in a more expensive torch, etc. If you can point me in the right direction, I would really appreciate it!

  4. There is supposed to be a “new” MAPP gas available within the next couple of months. I’ve seen people writing about it on LE. I’m guessing that it is going to be even more expensive than before, but will essentially be the same product, by a different manufacturer.

  5. I apologize in advance for my stupidity, but I’m not sure what LE is referring to? I’m very new to flameworking and am still learning the lingo, etc.

    When you are speaking about “bulk propane” and Hotheads, dangerous – etc., are you referring to the barbecue sized tanks commonly used on gas grills? The “next couple of months” could be a long wait – any ideas in the mean time?

  6. LE is Lampworkers Etc, one of the glassworking forum sites.

    Yes, a bulk tank can be a BBQ sized tank, actually anything 5# or over is considered a bulk tank.

    In the meantime? Good old propane, of course!!

  7. Thank you for the safety information.

    I am brand new in this field and I am interested in creating lampwork beads.
    You indicated that a hot head torch and a bulk tank are unsafe. What sytem would be safe and appropriate to make lampwork beads. I am not familiar enough with torches to understand if you are saying that all hot head torches are unsafe. Please clarify. Thank you!

  8. Heidi — you can safely use the HotHead torch with single one pound cannisters, but not with a bulk tank (meaning a tank that holds 5 or more pounds of fuel gas).

  9. Mike do you have any instances where someone has been injured using a HotHead torch and a bulk tank? I’m not aware of any but if you know of some, I’d like to know the circumstances.
    Thanks!

  10. Fortunately, there have been no injury incidents. However, there have been several incidents where improper hose assemblies have “decoupled” from the metallic hose adapter – these are cases where either the adapter or the mounting hose clamp failed under pressure.

  11. Mike–Can you tell me the difference I could expect between using propane or MAPP gas with a HotHead torch? Can you get propane in other than 1 lb canisters?
    Thanks!

  12. Carole — MAPP is going to burn slightly hotter and slightly cleaner than propane.

    You can get propane in larger cannisters, however, you will need to keep the tank outside and run a line from the tank to the torch, causing the issue I’ve pointed out above. I absolutely DO NOT recommend this practice with a hot head torch.

  13. Hooking a Hot Head to a bulk tank is the same as hooking up a campstove to a bulk tank. They use the same hose and the same fittings – which are designed to stand up to bulk tank pressure. The hoses are typically rated for 350PSI. The only difference is that you are typically inside instead of outside. There are thousands of people using this set-up all over north america probably since 1995 and no-one has yet heard of a fire or explosion or serious injury. That’s over 13 years. This is not to say that the user shouldn’t be aware of the possible risk (the differences between duel-fuel and hot head on bulk tank). Tank shut offs and Regulators can also fail can they not? Sending 80 – 120 PSI into your dual-fuel system. Alot have barb fittings at the torch ends which would not stand-up to 80 – 120 PSI. People also tend to leave dual-fuel systems hooked up, even when not in use or supervised. Most hot head users don’t leave the Hot Head on the bulk tank when not in use – it gets disconnected. Let’s face it the risks are the same when using a bulk propane tank – the tank is still under pressure regardless of the kind of fittings or hoses or torches. If you beleive a catastrophic failure can happen with a hot head set-up then it can happen with a dual-fuel set-up.

    The only truly “safe” way is to elimiate the tanks. Oxy con and hard plumbed on natural gas.

  14. Actually Tamara, you are wrong on many counts. And the issue here **IS** inside versus outside. Propane tanks are illegal inside any residential or commercial structure in the United States with very few exceptions.

    You are also wrong about there being no accidents. There was one just about a month ago. It was posted on LE, here’s the link: http://www.lampworketc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=99464

    You are wrong about regulators as well. If they fail, the fail negatively, that is, they fail closed. They are designed to shut down the flow of gas if anything inside the regulator should break.

    While it is true that most people leave dual gas setups hooked up, that same “most people” also take the necessary steps to depressurize their lines, exactly the same as the hot head folks.

    I think you are just trying to rationalize something which is inherently dangerous. Sorry, but you are way off base. There is no amount of rationalization that will convince me that using a bulk tank with a hot head torch is safe.

  15. I just ordered a bulk tank of Propylene to use with my Hot Head Torch. I like many of the others here am a begining lampworker. I am going thru those little bottles of Map/Pro like crazy. I do not want to switch to the dual fuel system because I like where I have my studio set up. If I switch I will have to move to the garage. I would not have considered bringing Propane into my home. I’m sure the same risks will apply to the Propylene. Cindy Jenkins recommends a bulk tank in her book “Making Glass Beads”. After reading your article here I’m a little worried. What are your feelings about Propylene verses Propane?

  16. Norma — the risks are the same with *any* bulk fuel, be it MAPP, Propane, Chemoline, or Propylene. It is illegal in every state in the US to keep bulk fuel tanks inside a house.

    Forget what Cindy Jenkins wrote in her book. That has absolutely no bearing on the safety issue!

    I understand your frustration with using the small one-pound tanks with the torch, however, that is what the torch was designed to be used with. It is the only legal and safe way to use the torch.

    Why would you have to move to the garage to use an oxygen/fuel gas setup? Oxygen concentrators are easily available, and you can plumb in your low pressure propane very easily. It is far safer to use an oxy/propane torch inside a house than it is a Hot Head torch.

  17. I work outside with a hothead and 1 lb tanks. Thinking about getting a hose and bulk propane. Wouldn’t working outside with that setup be safe?

  18. I really don’t mean to be argumentative, just point out a discrepancy and pose a question.

    You mention nothing of the danger of using Oxygen AND propane (or any other fuel) with a two-gas torch. You simply say “hotter, more focused, and use far less fuel. And they are miles away more quieter.” You never say it’s safer. I suspect that’s because it’s not. Oxygen is HYPER explosive AND an accelerant. It would seem common sense to me using two explosive gasses is twice as dangerous as just one. How do/can anyone, especially apartment dwellers, use ANY type of torch safely and legally other than outside, away from a building?

  19. Oxygen is not explosive. Not even a tiny bit. Oxygen is, as you pointed out, an accelerant. In the presence of fuel (solid, liquid, gas), it makes the fuel burn hotter.

    There is no discrepancy here at all. Oxygen and propane, oxygen and hydrogen, oxygen and acetylene are all commonly used together, quite safely, and yes, many times in apartment buildings.

    As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the safety issue is one of major concern to me. Oxygen, however, is not the issue here, propane is. Let’s stay focused on that!

  20. Oxygen **IS** an issue! accelerant reads “Spontaneously igniting flammable materials such as oil” but never mind that, Propane is the issue… You sound as if you are more focused on making your point than making people understand what the dangers are or even understanding them yourself. ANY pressurized flammable gas OR accelerant is a hazard. Oxygen and acetylene IS a far more explosive combination. Acetylene burns about 5589’F Propane 4579’F hummm… Acetylene is stored in the tank at about 250 psig and Oxygen at pressures that can be as high as 2200 psig. in addition when Acetylene reaches pressures of 15 psig or over it becomes unstable presenting the possibility of spontaneous decomposition. this is commonly called an explosion. It can exist in tanks at 250 psig because the cylinders contain a porous filler material which is wetted with acetone. That’s the tanks, not hoses or fittings. Propane is stored in tanks at about 100 psig. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that with common sense and proper safety procedures bulk propane poses LESS danger than acetylene and oxygen. Just because someone passed a law about it doesn’t make it safe or unsafe, in the end it’s the USER that is responsible for his or her OWN safety!

  21. What you are forgetting Jason, is that oxygen comprises some 23% of the air we breathe. Any leak of compressed oxygen will be rapidly assimilated by the surrounding air and rendered “harmless”.

    You pose an interesting point about passing a law about safety issues — seems to me that breaking the law is just as “dangerous” as working “unsafely”. The safety procedures that currently exist for propane are in place BECAUSE of laws, not in spite of them.

    Again, let’s stay focused on the issue, which is the bulk propane usage at full tank pressure.

  22. Ok so do they make regulators that can be used on the bulk propaine tanks to make them any safe in that regard of leaks. the tanks at my work use a regulator that if it releases more then 15 psi it locks down the tank ( 15 psi is adjustable as needed ) so wouldnt that kind of set up then allow for running through the wall? also if there is a need for more preasure then the 20 allowed then couldnt you run 2-3 lines that then intesect giving you the preasure you need and still be with in the law ?

    • Leaks don’t usually come from the regulator, but from the lines or the device that is using the fuel. I believe that you are referring to some sort of flow monitoring device, and I don’t believe they are commecially available.

      Running multiple 20 PSI lines through a wall will still result in 20 PSI in the final line, you will just have more volume. Pressure and volume are two different beasties.

      • I just happened on this site after viewing Kim and Kandice’s coloraddiction website. I am new to beadmaking and was looking for hoses for my “hothead” torch. I’ve read all the comments, but I am not sure I am clear on the proper use of a propane BBQ sized tank with a “hothead”. Are you saying that it you don’t suggest it, even if the propane tank is on the outside of the house with hoses ran to the torch? What if you have an adapter that keeps the fuel and flame from backing up to the tank? Please respond. Thanks, Jeanne

      • Correct. A “bulk” tank of any kind SHOULD NOT be used with a hot head torch. The risk is simply too high. Stick with one pound tanks until you are ready to move to a larger torch.

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